Let’s take a moment to celebrate. MARTA is one step closer to getting $2.5 billion, funded by a half penny sales tax in Atlanta, after Gov. Deal signed the much-heralded measure into law last Tuesday.
The compromise measure, which still must go before voters as a referendum before going into effect, focuses narrowly on the City of Atlanta, with an option for Fulton County to pursue a small sales tax as well. SB 369 allows Atlanta to levy an up to 0.5 percent sales tax, while giving Fulton County the option to have a 0.25 percent sales tax for the purpose of funding MARTA.
More money for Atlanta’s existing public transit is great. Unfortunately, this compromise bill continues to show the short-sightedness of many of our current leaders.
Rep. Jan Jones (R-Milton), a high-ranking member of the House, spoke with the AJC about this “win-win” compromise bill.
“It was a win-win for Fulton County,” said House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, a Milton Republican who brokered the agreement. “In north and south Fulton, people want to be able to get to work primarily on congested roads in their cars. They may also want transit opportunities, but their first priority is clogged roads.”
Is Jones implying that public transit cannot help relieve traffic congestion?
There was a lot of drama over MARTA funding this past legislative session, as a proposal from Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) was killed just before crossover day, the last day bills can pass out of one chamber and remain active.
It took some legislative maneuvering — gutting an unrelated fireworks bill and replacing it with the compromise MARTA language — to get SB 369 through on the last day of session.
Beach’s original proposal would have seen a portion of the funds from last year’s big transportation funding bill, HB 170, allowed to be used by the City of Atlanta, and Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton counties for MARTA expansion. However, this proposal faced steep opposition from John’s Creek and Alpharetta.
Georgia policymakers need to stop treating public transit as the enemy, and start looking at it as another great tool in the toolbox for helping people get around, improving citizen’s quality of life and facilitating economic growth.
Roads are just one solution, but investing in sidewalks, bicycle lanes and bicycle rental programs, light rail, streetcars, buses and car sharing programs are also necessary — and smart — tools that need to be implemented in Georgia.
While these small steps need to be commended, particularly in a political climate that continues to be hostile to public transit, there is so much more our state can be doing.
The benefits of making non-car modes of transportation easy and accessible go beyond the headaches of a bad commute. Long commutes are associated with many negative health outcomes, including higher blood pressure, higher cholesterol and increased anxiety. Reducing traffic can also help cut down on air pollution; traffic-related air pollution has been shown to increase the risk of asthma in children and adults.
There also continues to be a focus on what are deemed “lifestyle riders” — those that choose to ride public transit, but have other options — leaving the region’s car-less behind. The compromise bill is expected to heavily fund transit along Atlanta’s rapidly gentrifying Beltline.
The AJC quotes Robbie Ashe, the MARTA Board Chairman, on the likely focus on the Beltline:
MARTA Board Chairman Robbie Ashe said that the transit agency’s staff is already working on a list of potential projects to share with the city.
“My best guess is the lion’s share would go to expanding the transit on the Beltline,” said Ashe, adding that the city might also contemplate building infill rail stations or extending a rail line by a stop or two.
Metropolitan areas around the state are going to continue to grow, and at some point the ‘fix the potholes and add another lane’ model just won’t cut it.